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Olney Family Vineyards family sued following death in an irrigation pond

by Kerana Todorov
April 12, 2021
Chancellor "Chance" Goforth. Submitted photo courtesy of Nawal Kassir Photography



The parents of a Paso Robles man killed in April 2020 when a SUV he was occupying crashed in a Napa Valley vineyard irrigation pond have filed a lawsuit against the property owners, according to the complaint.

Chancellor “Chance” Goforth died in the early hours of April 2, 2020, when the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser drove off a private road at Olney Family Vineyards in the in the 2200 block of Dry Creek Road, according to the complaint. The SUV drove down an embankment and landed in the pond, where it was fully submerged, according to the complaint and the California Highway Patrol. 

The civil complaint named the vineyard and winery proprietors, David Olney and Shirley Gill-Olney, their company, Olney LLC, and their son, Peter Allen Gill Olney, the owner of the SUV, according to the court filing. 

The younger Olney, who was in the SUV, was able to leave the vehicle on his own, according to the CHP. Goforth was pronounced dead at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, according to the CHP. He was 30. 

The Goforths’ attorney, Bradley Liggett, said Chance Goforth was visiting his friend, Peter Olney.

Gofoth’s parents, Mark and Sherri Goforth alleged in their lawsuit that the design and the maintenance of the roadway near the pond, about 400 feet off Dry Creek Road, contributed to their son’s death, according to the court filing. The owners of the Oak Knoll District vineyard “negligently acted or failed to act when planning, designing, constructing, supervising, owning, leasing, installing, inspecting, operating, repairing and/or maintaining the Premises,” according to the complaint filed April 2 in Napa County Superior Court. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Peter Olney “negligently ingested and/or administered to himself large amounts of alcohol and/or incapacitating drugs prior to the subject incident such that he knew or should have known, of the probability of an accident causing seriousness of injury or death to others, which would result from his driving under the influence, and thus demonstrated a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others, thus constituting despicable conduct and malice,” according to the complaint. Alcohol appeared to have been a factor in the incident, the CHP stated in April 2020.

Olney, who was 27 in April 2020, has not been charged in connection with the crash, according to court records and the Napa County District Attorney’s office. California Highway Patrol public information officer Marc Renspurger recently said the identity of the driver has not been established.

The elder Goforths said in a press release they hope their lawsuit can “raise awareness and help prevent similar incidents in the future.”

The lawsuit does not seek a specific dollar amount. Liggett, the Goforths’ attorney, said no dollar amount has to be specified under California law other than to state that the complaint is for more than $25,000.

In a separate matter, Peter Olney has been charged in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident that took place in 2019 at the Dry Creek property, according to a felony complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court in June 2020. Olney has pleaded not guilty, according to court records. A preliminary hearing is set for April 30, according to court records.

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